13. Activated gifts

Palm Sunday Processional (2017) by Kelsey Johnson

Palm Sunday Processional (2017) by Kelsey Johnson

by Rev. Tommy Williams, Senior Pastor

Thus far, Paul has dealt with fairly specific causes for division in the Corinthian church. Now he turns theological about the body of Christ. His ecclesiology (theology of the church) is fleshed out in I Corinthians 12, beautifully: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” 

These verses (4-6) sum up a positive understanding of the body of Christ in every time and place. Paul gives to us a lens through which to see our differences. When it works for the mission of God, a diversity of giftedness serves in a complementary way for the strength of the whole church’s mission. Gifts are given differently to each but unity is found in the God who energizes and brings all of them to life. 

Continuing his ecclesiology, Paul discusses the body of Christ in those same terms. The body needs each member functioning at its best. Each one needs the other and can’t perform the functions that other members can perform. An eye doesn’t do what a finger does and so on. “There are many members and yet one body.” 

This wisdom in verse 20 keeps us balancing the desires for unity and diversity. Those who pursue unity at all costs are often tempted to blur the differences between things in order to achieve agreement. Those who hold diversity as the highest aim work hard to bring everyone to the table and still need to do the hard work of bringing each together around the mission God has for the church in the world. 

Who is in the church matters because of the gifts God needs in the world. These persons, all of us, exercise our gifts for the mission of the church. 

The key for Paul, and us, is unity in diversity. It involves a mutual appreciation for diversity while keeping the mission of God always in front of us. For the United Methodist Church as a whole, our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world. This mission mirrors the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to make disciples of all nations. In each setting, disciple-making will have some variation, but core elements will be true to each context—worship, Bible study, prayer, covenantal commitments to God and each other, generosity, service, and so forth.

Finally, Paul closes this chapter with a recitation of various gifts but says there is one even greater gift than miracles, healing, teaching, etc., and that is agape—the unconditional love of God for us—and it is that kind of love that keeps us together. This is where the famous 13th chapter picks up.